Winter riding tips for your road bike

In my post about bike riding, I mentioned that this was the first winter I was spending on my bike. For the past few winters, I’ve hung up my road bike every October and left it untouched until March or April when things warmed up again. I also gained about 10lbs each winter from months of indoor inactivity and noticed I was suffering from bouts of winter blues. When I started doing cyclocross last fall I realized it wasn’t that hard to power through the winters and continue riding.

I noticed the thing holding me back and hanging up my bike each fall was simply being too cold when riding. While I could handle cold temps on my legs, it was mostly my ears and hands freezing from lack of coverage. Also, I avoided riding in the rain, which in Oregon can be the majority of winter days. This winter I decided to spend a few weeks and a few hundred dollars testing out everything I could find to try and get some comfort when temps got cold and the weather turned wet.

Keep in mind that winters in the Pacific Northwest are mild by global standards and probably even by American standards, but they’re much colder than what I was used to after spending the first 30 years of my life in California. Average daily high temps in the Oregon winter are roughly in the 30F-50F range with lots of rain (and snow a handful of days). The stuff I list here has worked well for me when doing 15-20 mile rides (about 60-90 minutes of riding) in temps that are just above freezing and raining.

I’ve broken the following tips for gear down by area of the body. I sometimes tried 2 or 3 different products before finding one that worked and I’ll say upfront a lot of this stuff is expensive but I contend the comfort is definitely worth it. Also keep in mind all this gear does add to your exercise time — it literally takes me about 15 minutes to fully suit up for a cold ride and almost that long to take it all and hang it for drying. I bought almost all of this gear at REI but their online store changes often and I’ve linked to other places I could find the same item or something similar. Click any thumbnail to get to a store selling it.

Keeping your head warm

There are a few important things to consider here: you want to keep your ears warm and your head dry even in rain. Towards those goals I found the following products to work best.

A Skullcap is a liner you put on your head, under your helmet and they extend over your ears (this is key to keeping warm). I tried out a cheap one made by Trek and another cheap one made by REI but they didn’t cover my ears completely or block much wind. I found a model made by Gore (the gore-tex people) that has a windstopper layer inside of it to be quite warm and big enough to completely cover my ears.

skullcap

Helmet covers are also important for sheding rain off your helmet and keeping wind from getting to your head through all the vents. Gore makes one that works fantastically. Water flows right off it and never soaks in.

helmet cover

Helmet type is important to keep water off your eyes and face. I’ve always ridden with a helmet like this one, which offers tons of vents to keep your head cool in summer. I quickly found that even with a helmet cover, lots of rain would pour onto my glasses so I ended up getting a mountain bike helmet with a bit of a visor like this one. That extra inch or so hanging over my temple is enough to keep rain completely off the top of my face while riding.

Don’t forget your eyes. I wear prescription sunglasses by Oakley, with their lightest lens available (it lets in 61% of the light while normal sunglasses only let in 10-20%). They still block sun but I can wear them and see fine on cloudy days, they block cold winds from making my eyes tear up, and my helmet’s visor (even with the helmet cover stretched over it) keeps water off them nicely.

Keeping your torso warm

There are loads of options for what to wear on top and most people go for layering. I tried jerseys with fleece over with a shell on top of everything and found it to be too bulky. I eventually found a really nice high-end jacket by Gore that I can wear with a simple first layer like a t-shirt. Even after months of rainy and muddy rides, it never lets water in and keeps me really warm even below freezing. It does get a bit warm when temps rise to up to 50F but it has underarm vents (with a mesh screen under to keep your shirt inside — a nice touch I’ve never seen in a jacket before). It also has a napoleon pocket for my iPhone and standard cycling jersey style pockets in the back (also has a tiny zippered back pocket I keep my house keys in). I love this jacket to death and it’s gotta be the most technologically advanced fabric I’ve owned. I have zero complaints with it.

jacket

Keeping your legs warm

If temps are in the 40F-50F range, I find that a simple pair of cycling tights works fine. It’s basically just a pair of normal cycling shorts but they go down to your ankles. And yes, you do kind of have to get over the weird feeling of wearing tights in public but embarrassment goes away after a ride or two. I love these Pearl Izumi tights because they have a great chamois pad:

tights

When temps are in the 30F-40F range and it is raining, I use another set of tights, this time by Gore. They have windstopper fabric and they are unpadded, so you have to wear them over summer cycling shorts. I can’t find them at REI anymore but I think these are the same pair.

Keeping your hands warm

I normally wear a pretty light glove and I really like having the dexterity to work a cycling computer and adjust zippers while riding so it took me a long time to find a winter glove that didn’t feel like an oven mitt. When temps are in the 40F-50F range I wear a light leather glove by Pearl Izumi that is basically a summer cycling glove with full fingers. When the wind kicks up, it rains, or temps go into the 30F range, I switch to a slightly heavier glove, a thermalfleece padded version of the same glove. Lots of companies make lots of heavier gloves but I found them to be cumbersome to use and after 15min or so on my bike, my hands would start to sweat even if it was barely above freezing outside.

Keeping your feet warm

Lastly, if you’re using road shoes they’re probably thin leather that is tight fitting and require a short thin sock. That spells disaster for comfort in the winter rain and I decided to try out some heavy shoe covers/booties. They work amazingly well and it’s one of those things where you didn’t know you needed them until you had them. I was surprised the first time I wore them on a cold ride because I was just used to having ice cold extremities but these really help you stay warm, especially in rain. Without these booties, my feet used to cramp up on cold rides, but it hasn’t happened since I started using them.

booties

Conclusions

This winter, I’ve ridden several hundred miles in weather a lot of people don’t like to drive a car in. I’m fitter, healthier, and happier and when I have a couple hours set aside for a ride, with all this gear the weather really doesn’t matter anymore. It is expensive stuff and I’d guess it’ll cost you $500 and up to get fully outfitted but the difference is dramatic and these gear choices are the only thing making comfort possible in the freezing rain.

Crap I love: the Napoleon pocket


Love for the Napoleon jacket, originally uploaded by mathowie.

In the past few months, I’ve become the proud owner of two jackets with a new-to-me feature called the Napoleon pocket. Obviously, it’s named after the dude and his famous pose of having one hand halfway obscured into his clothing and it’s becoming more common on hiking and cycling jackets.

In traveling around I’ve quickly come to love my Napoleon pocket jackets to death mostly because it’s the perfect place to stash an iPhone/iPod for the following reasons:

  • If you stash one in the pocket and then wrap half of your headphone cord around your device, there’s a perfect amount of headphone cord sticking out, but not so much that it gets stuck in everything. You can put on and take off messenger bags, you can fall asleep in an airplane seat, and you can stand in a super crowded subway car without ever getting tangled up in a huge cord.
  • Stashing in a normal pant pocket risks scratches from change and keys, but up high it’s usually alone
  • The small chest pocket is a perfect size for an iPhone/iPod
  • With the iPhone button on the cord, you can just stash the phone into your pocket and forget about it, pausing and advancing music with the cord control

I’ve also found the pocket handy when getting to an airport or grabbing a rental car because it’s a great temporary pocket you won’t forget about and that you can quickly find again without having to dig through other stuff. I don’t know what I’m going to do this summer when it’s too warm to wear a jacket as I’m getting daily use out of this feature.

Bikes, bikes, bikes

Cyclocross bike worked fine in the snowy streets For the past few years I’ve been getting back into cycling in a big way. Though I’ve spent all my life riding bikes, after college I rarely had time or a place to ride. Now that’s all changed as I live in a relatively flat small town with plenty of roads and a healthy cycling scene.

A couple summers ago I got my first road bike and went on a few 15 mile rides with the local bike shop group. Last year I raced in a couple cyclocross races and got my ass thoroughly kicked, but had a blast. Thanks to the MetaFilter cycling challenges over at We Endure, this year I decided to stop hanging my bike up every winter and just power through it.

This year, I’m aiming to do quite a bit more. This fall I’ll do the whole cyclocross series. I’m also doing the 500 miles in one week of Cycle Oregon. I’ll do a century or two (or 3) during the summer as well as the Portland Short Track series on my new mountain bike. Today I had fun doing the Worst Day Ride as well as hitting the North American Handmade Bike Show. Though I’ve only ridden 600-800 miles a year for the past three years, I’m hoping to put down about 2,000 in 2008. My three favorite blogs right now are Bike Portland, Bike Design, and Bike Hacks.

I mention all this because you might see a few more bike-related posts here and I’m actively trying to lose another 25lbs this year by watching what I eat and exercising more. It also adds some motivation to meet my goals, so if you see me in six months on the street or at a conference, go ahead and ask me how many miles I’ve ridden and how much weight I’ve lost.

Domain related junk mail


Domain related junk mail, originally uploaded by mathowie.

In the beginning, I listed my home phone number and apartment address on all my domains. By the late nineties, the marketers/spammers showed up and after the tenth early morning phone pitch and junkmail blast, I gave up and fabricated a generic-sounding address and slapped a movie-style 555 phone number on all my domains.

Last Fall I finally buckled down and got a PO Box and I decided to try putting a real business address and phone number (at least my SkypeIn number) back on my domains. Today I did my monthly PO Box check and it was full. For the first three months of my mailbox, I got almost no mail but today it was stuffed with special offers for the owner of metafilter.com. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since there’s almost no cost to blasting out ads to every domain owner but it was still unexpected.

My biggest worry when looking at this stack of mail? I hope the person living at 123 Fake St. in San Francisco knows how truly sorry I am for the past eight years of junk mail.

How to record a kickass podcast between two macs — and cheap!

I've updated this with a lot more info over on my Fortuitous Blog: Everything I've learned about Podcasting

A lot of people ask me how I do the MetaFilter Podcast (warning: the podcast makes no sense to anyone outside of MetaFilter uberfans). I know they don't mean "how do you do it man, you're making magic over there every week!" but rather "what software and hardware does it take to make a decent sounding podcast?" After almost a year of regular podcasts and trying out different software and equipment, I've gotten the workflow down cold and I wanted to share the my way of making a good sounding podcast on the cheap. This works perfectly well for me being in Oregon and talking to my friend Jessamyn in Vermont over Skype, recording at both ends, then tossing it all into Garageband to complete the podcast. I read a lot of podcast how-tos when I set out to do my own, and almost all of them are mired in technical details about microphone quality and USB vs. mixer board audio wankery. Most every tutorial about doing a podcast interview focuses way too much on studio-like sound quality achieved through your equipment instead of through software and a bit of clever thinking. So without further ado: How to record a good podcast between two mac users on the cheap Software required:

Hardware required:

Though you might have heard bad phone interview podcasts with Skype before, having Call Recorder running on both sides of your interview will mean your interview partner will have a crystal clear recording just like yours. The cheap headset microphones are brain-dead simple to use on a Mac (plug-in, change audio prefs to use the headset for input and output, adjust the recording level) and produce perfectly good vocal recordings. I've used $250 higher-end microphones and had little audio quality improvement. This process assumes two people, each running Skype, Call Recorder, and having a USB headset microphone. The Interview Recording:

  1. Start a Skype chat between you and your partner
  2. Both parties hit the record button on their Call Recorder (I record on high quality, low compression AAC)
  3. Conduct your interview normally
  4. When interview is complete, end call, stop recording
  5. Call Recorder includes a directory of mini-apps called Movie Tools. Have your partner locate their recording file and tell them to drag it over the "Split Movie Tracks" application
  6. Have partner upload Track 1 of the split movie files to a server you can download the file from

Assembling the podcast in Garageband:

  1. Drag your copy of the interview recording over Split Movie Tracks to turn your recording into one file for each side of the Skype conversation
  2. Drag each resulting .mov file over another Movie Tools app "Convert to AIFF"
  3. Drag your partner's half interview (that you downloaded from them) .mov file over Convert to AIFF
  4. Open Garageband, start a new podcast
  5. Duplicate one of the vocal tracks (my partner is female so I duplicate the default female track
  6. Drag your own Track 1 AIFF track into a Garageband track (my goes into the default Male Voice)
  7. Drag your own Track 2 AIFF track into Garageband, perfectly aligned with our Track 1 (this ensures the timings are exact for each side of your own interview recording)
  8. Drag your partner's Track 1 AIFF track into the duplicated track in Garageband
  9. Garageband quickly analyzes each track and makes visual soundwaves to go with each track. "Line up" your Track 2 and your partner's Track 1 audio files. The peaks and flat quiet area should look really similar (click screenshot below, view notes on the image itself) How to make a podcast (Figure 1)
  10. Once your partner's vocal track is lined up (press play to hear all three tracks and your partner should sound like an almost perfect echo from their two tracks), delete your own Track 2 track. You now have two high quality recordings from each respective source, ready for continued editing into your podcast (you can level out the volume if one person was louder, clip out pauses and coughs together, etc)

How does it sound? To give you an idea of how it sounds, consider the following three sample recordings. The first is the worst possible: recorded Skype conversation where I dialed out to a phone and recorded the entire thing on my end (mp3 sample 1 96kbps) Second, here is what a standard recorded Skype call sounds like, where I recorded both sides of the conversation on my end, so my partner was recorded through Skype and even on my high bandwidth fiber connection, it does have artifacts (mp3 sample 2 96kbps) Third, here is the same interview segment as the second part, but with my partner's local recording track thrown in and my recording of her track thrown out. Much better and to me, sounds like we could be in the same room, even though we are 3,000 miles apart. (mp3 sample 3 128kbps) Conclusion The basic premise of this approach is you can record a Skype interview without actually needing/using Skype. You are actually recording audio on each end independent of Skype, so you won't suffer any sound quality problems due to Skype transport. So that's it, for about $100 or so, you can have a pretty damn good podcast that sounds like two people sat in a room together talking and recording, even if they're on opposite sides of a country.